'Shearing is a dying trade - it's getting harder to find young people to do it'
'Shearing on a day-to-day basis is a tough business and it's hard to get young people involved, but it is great that these championships are so popular," says Jim O'Dwyer of the All-Ireland Sheep Shearing Championships, which took place in Cashel last weekend.
A member of the 20-man organising committee, Jim and his team were expecting 3,000 people to descend on the Cashel Rugby Club over the two days.
"It's great for the town as it brings in tourism, plus we were delighted to be hosting the event as it didn't take place last year due to lack of a venue."
Even though Jim is a sheep farmer himself, it was thanks to his four sons - twins Conor and Kieran (13), Aidan (10) and Brian (8) - that he got involved in the running of this year's championships.
"They are all involved in rugby so I was in the middle of it," he said. Thanks to a healthy membership - with many of those from farming backgrounds - it proved a perfect venue with access to volunteers. Former Irish international Denis Leamy is head coach, leading them to numerous wins in recent years.
The logistics of running an event of such magnitude can be hugely time-consuming, but Jim says that everyone gave their fair share of time in recent weeks in between work commitments.
"We have a sheep committee of about 10 and some 20 members in total."
Jim and his wife Eithne run a sheep and beef farm on 230ac outside the town of Cashel. A commerce graduate, he returned home to run the family business when his father retired some 12 years ago.
Currently, he has a flock of 300 ewes, mainly Suffolk/Cheviot crosses. As he says himself, he is a big fan of the Borris Ewe.
"I go back to Borris every year to find replacements," he said.
"These are then crossed with Charollais rams."
To spread the workload, Jim lambs down approximately 70 ewes in early January, with the remainder lambing from mid-February onwards. The mild winter meant that these could be let out to grass quickly.
"For the early lamb, I supply to Tynan Meats in Johnstown, Co Kilkenny, and later in the year, I will sell at Cashel Mart. They supply to Kildare Chilling.
I would only ever have a few ready for the Easter market.
"Prices this year started off fairly good in mid-April at €6.50/kg but this past week, they have been down to €5.50/kg, which isn't great."
In addition, Jim also farms some 140 drystock each year, mainly Angus bullocks. He buys in mostly from Cashel and Cahir marts, and sells to ABP in Cahir.
"I buy them in at 18 months old between August and October, and sell them at 30 months off grass. They are not fed any meal."
Jim contracts out all his silage harvesting and was fortunate to have ample supply for this winter. "Last year was tough, but we got through it," he said.
Each summer, Jim also calls on local shearing contractors John Foley and Philip Thompson.
"There are not too many shearers left around here, and if these guys pack up, I will be in big trouble.
"It's sad to see that shearing is a dying trade. It's getting harder and harder to find young people to do it these days.
"Plus the price of wool is poor, but you have to get it off their backs either way." He sells to Dooleys in Roscrea.
Jim said his sons usually help out during shearing at home, so no doubt they will all get a job or two this weekend.
"I am sure some of them will help roll the wool at some stage," said Jim.
In conversation with Siobhán English
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